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Talking points from the Toulouse Sevens, and the spirit of the game

Photo credit: Mike Lee

The French leg of the HSBC World Sevens Series took place in Toulouse over the weekend of 20-22 May, and it was definitely one that got people talking – and not always for the right reasons.

Let’s start with some good news, although it may not immediately appear to be that. The Springbok Women’s Sevens team was back in action, and while it was a challenging weekend for them, it was also really positive in terms of exposure to more experienced teams and lessons learned. The team had not played in a tournament since the 2019 Cape Town Sevens, and had seven debutants in the squad, so it was always going to be a steep learning curve, especially when their opening match was against reigning champions, Australia. However, they set themselves two goals – to beat one of the ‘core’ teams, which they did in their defeat of Spain, and to finish at least 10th, which they also achieved. Hopefully it's onward and upwards for this exciting young team.

Unfortunately, the Blitzboks continued their seemingly downward spiral, with coach Neil Powell referring to this weekend’s tournament as the worst performance of his coaching career. The Blitzboks suffered a historic defeat to Ireland, and had their worst finish since 2013, losing to Scotland in the 9th place semi-final. They also fell to second place on the overall log, and will need to do plenty of thinking ahead of the London leg of the series, which kicks off on 28 May.

However, the biggest talking point of the weekend was the controversial behaviour of England and Argentina during their pool match on Day 2. Midway through the second half, with Argentina in the lead but down to six men, England’s Will Homer made an impressive run for the try line… and then apparently realised the permutations that would allow both teams to progress to the playoffs if he scored then, and no further points were scored by either side. And so he stood there. And stood there. For two minutes, out of a seven-minute half. The Argentinians, who had been preparing to head back to halfway after the try was scored, apparently confident that they couldn’t catch him, at first looked confused and made a few half-hearted moves in his direction, but then apparently they too did the math, and so they just let it happen. As did the referee.

It was honestly one of the strangest, most cynical, and frankly unsporting things I have ever seen in the game of rugby. And what really blows my mind is the number of people defending it. Apparently it was, according to them, a really clever, tactical way to play the game, and no rugby laws were broken. For starters, they’re wrong on that last point. According to law 9.7d A player must not waste time (the sanction is a free kick), and law 9.27 stipulates that a player must not do anything that is against the spirit of good sportsmanship (the sanction is a penalty). Now, some may argue that since England and Argentina were apparently in agreement that they should just hang out and not actually play any rugby for two minutes (which let’s face it, is a hell of a long time in a game of Sevens), they didn’t do anything against the spirit of good sportsmanship. I’d bet the fans in the stand, who paid to watch two teams actually competing might disagree, and I’m very sure that Canada, who were knocked out as a result of that little machination, would definitely disagree. Either way, who knows what the ref was thinking when he allowed it to happen.

At a time when people are clamoring for the 15s game to speed up, and new laws are being trialed to reduce unnecessary stoppages, it seems especially mad to me that some people have absolutely no problem with two teams deciding that it’s okay to just not ground the ball for two minutes in order to game the system. It’s a disgrace. And I can honestly say that I would rather the Blitzboks (or the Springboks, for that matter) never won another game or progressed through another tournament than resorted to that kind of behaviour. It is so far from the spirit of the rugby values that we talk about that it beggars belief.

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